Are we hiring instructional designers as catch-alls?

It’s hard to find a good instructional designer. Someone who can work alongside subject matter experts (and have credibility), make sense of tons of available resources, magically imagine and develop narrative and great workplace stories, come up with really smart activities, decide what resources would support these, re-work/re-write available supporting resources so they really fit, and so on.

It seems the best instructional designers have reached their mid-career and have had (an)other career(s) before becoming an instructional designer. No wonder.

Now tell me, why would these excellent instructional designers also need all the technical and artistic skills listed in so many ID job adverts? Where would you even find these people who do all of the above (well) and also have Articulate (or similar software) skills, graphic design skills, coding skills (when the software needs a tweak), and so much more? It’s difficult enough to be good at any one of these skills.

The all-in-one might work for simple courses on delegation, CPR, health and safety, or anything along these lines. Everyone ‘gets’ this stuff.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Once the topics get tough you need high calibre instructional designers who focus on design only and are good at it. Don’t disregard them when they don’t know how to do the technical, development and/or artistic tasks. What’s important is how they are able to have difficult conversations with subject-matter experts, make sense of really complicated topics and turn intricate materials into smart and interesting courses.

There are so many subjects out there that are not for the faint hearted. DynaMind eLearning has developed e-learning courses on aid effectiveness, gender budgeting, international procurement, laboratory surveillance, just to name a few. It would have been impossible to find a person who can design learning at that level and have all the other skills listed in typical instructional design job adverts as well. There is no need to – that’s what multi-disciplinary teams are for.

Are learning objectives really that important?
Can we develop e-learning that respects adult learning principles?


6 Comments. Leave new

  • I so agree, Anouk! As a contract instructional designer I have to make decisions about how to invest my own time, energy (and money!) in my ongoing professional development and I regularly ponder if I should be upskilling in a particular e-learning software, or advancing my (basic) graphics skills – especially as I observe the growing number of job ads for IDs that expect applicants to have such an increasingly broad range of skills. In my experience though, every client/organisation uses a different platform, and it would be impossible for me to get proficient in all the software out there that I come across in various contracts. So instead I choose to be clear with potential clients that when they contract me they are getting a specialist ID, who will partner with specialist developers and graphic designers (who really “know their stuff”, in the same way I know mine) as needed to create the best outcome for their project. I learn lots of useful things from working with these highly-skilled GDs/developers which I can then apply in my ID work, but I will never get to the level of graphic design/coding that they are at (nor would I want to). And I choose to engage with professional development activity that focuses on expanding and refreshing my core ID skills – the ones you have mentioned above – so I can continue to provide great ID services to my clients.

    • Thanks for your input Cate. Great to know other IDs who are on the same page. It’s true that we pick up a lot of “what the software can do” and that’s very useful when designing. It’s a whole other skill to actually be able to develop and make it look good too. There are simply too many talents involved to try and find this in one person, especially when the subject matter is complex.
      I know you have also built up a solid academic and professional background before becoming an ID, so this reflects in the quality of your work. I’m not sure if the sector appreciates the importance of this and how this impacts on the work IDs do with the SMEs. Perhaps this is why there are so many articles about the challenges between IDs and SMEs, something I personally never really have problems with (which I think is because of my background pre-ID). I wrote about this here: What’s wrong with SMEs?

  • […] am not the only one to ponder this. Anouk Janssens-Bevernage in the The Learning Nomad asks, “Are we hiring instructional designers as catch alls?” This leads to a discussion of the […]

  • I found this post during my search for some career clarity…
    I’ve been an ID for about 8 years, a lot of my work was solely in design (working with SMEs, stakeholders, business solutions, consulting, etc) where I had a team to do the technical stuff for me. The technical stuff was flash, authoring in captivate, creating graphics and that sort of thing. I have a programming background and love graphic design, so I could jump in to help or make a quick module as needed.

    After a long time with my prior employer, I found a new job with a fairly good understanding of the description – it was quite similar to what I’ve done and appealed to me. There is a Sr. Designer in my department and log story short… I am not involved in consulting or business solutions and my SME is the other designer. It’s very isolating and I’m left out of staff meetings because I’m a “code monkey” now. Basically, I design and then spend weeks developing CBTs. I make substantially more than I used to and feel as though I’m now doing a job outside of the ID “range” and more in to a narrow slice of the pie. I do what feels like nothing all day as I toil in captivate… I still have to use some innate ID skills. I still design assessments, and get to organize the materials for my very large multi module programs but after about a day of set up and excitement….. The rest is “busy work” and non collaborative.

    I rarely get an opportunity to speak to my boss who pointed out that she liked that I used the word “distractor” to describe…. A distractor I had a question about. I continually receive positive feedback and my boss has said she is pleased with my work… Anyway, the expression of surprise was awkward…

    I’m wanting to terminate my employment (I worked at my last company for 10 years,,, but there were no raises in 7 years or I would have stayed because I loved my job!!)…. But I wanted to get some perspective … Am I in any way still keeping myself marketable as an ID with my current activities at work? I don’t even know what to write on my resume from this job that isn’t a painfully obvious step down in responsibility.

    I apologize for any spelling/grammar… iPhone…

  • That´s very true Anouk !

    In my team along IDs we have video experts, graphic designers, animation technicians, and more, besides hiring content experts.




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